The last time I spoke with my grandfather, John Richard Price Gabourel, was Thanksgiving of 1987. He lay in a hospital bed in San Francisco, his body wracked with cancer, and my father placed the call from our Portland home. My wife and I had just announced our engagement and I wanted to give him the news. Although he was barely able to communicate, I do like to believe he could still understand. He passed away a few days later to go on what he called “The greatest adventure of them all.”
He was a wonderful memory keeper and a king of tall tales. Despite his lack of education, his friends referred to him as “the expert on everything” for he could talk like he kissed the Blarney stone. With his passing a tremendous treasure of family artifacts passed on to my father, who was already an avid genealogist. Among the collection was an 1879 book penned by my great-great grandaunt, Harriet Gabourel, titled The Knight and the Dragon: A Legend of the Hougue Bie De Hambie, in the Island of Jersey.
After I moved home from university, my father showed me the book just after he had finished reading it. It was my great grandfather’s copy, a gift from his Auntie Harriet. I thought it an absolutely brilliant title and imagined it was some adventurous tale where the climax was a battle between a brave knight and a dangerous fire-breathing dragon. “Not so,” said my father, who then went on to describe a story of jealousy, betrayal and murder. At the time I figured sometime someday I would read Harriet’s story, but for the time being I had to work, get my wife through graduate school and raise my newborn son, Joshua Dustan.
Then it happened… a parent’s worst possible nightmare… my son died of SIDS at age three months eight days. Unless you have been through it, you cannot and do not want to know such pain. Every day I thank God for the strength of my extended family. Their support allowed us to survive the ensuing year.
That is when writing became an outlet for me. Pen, paper, and keyboard allowed me to escape into a daydream world of my creation. I found I had a small gift for poetry, I enjoyed writing essays (something I completely eschewed as a student), and the dream of writing a novel distracted me from my daily pain. Eventually I found an idea I liked and wrote my first manuscript. It was a short, satirical story, and I thought it quite clever. However, the literary industry did not find it so clever, so it remains an unfinished, unpublished project.
My own father passed away early in 2002, and the increasing demands of my family pushed aside my thoughts of being a novelist. I promised my father I would take up the mantle of the family historian, I was coaching my daughter’s soccer team, and my wife and I were active sports parents. My literary focus turned to the researching and writing my family history, and that culminated in the 2009 publication of The House of Gabourel.
Part of my research was to read both of Harriet Gabourel’s 19th century novels, Suzanne de L’Orme (later published as True to Her Faith) and The Knight and the Dragon. I immediately saw the tremendous potential of the legend of La Hougue Bie, but was unhappy with Harriet’s title, a title I had been enamored with for two decades. It had little to do with the heart of the story, that being the arc of the widow, the treacherous servant, and his conscience. Ultimately, as the story came together, I settled on the title The Knight and the Serpent, for it implies a dual meaning and is better suited to the overall story, yet still tips its hat to its inspiration.
Remembering the sting of literary rejection from years past and happy with the process of self-publishing The House of Gabourel, I decided to publish The Knight and the Serpent on my own. So far so good…